Middle Colonies

From Academic Kids

The Middle Colonies were a part of the former Thirteen Colonies of the 18th century. They consisted of the future states of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and sometimes Maryland. Today these areas are described as the Mid-Atlantic States. The middle colonies were the most ethnically and religously diverse of the 13 original colonies because they were also the most tolerant. They had more agriculture than the New England colony. The Middle Colonies were also known as the "bread basket" colonies because of their large grain export.

There were many brick buildings in the middle colonies due to the amount of clay along the riverbanks. The Dutch built houses that were usually 2 ½ to 3 stories high with steep roofs. The Germans were the first in the colonies to use stoves rather than fireplaces to heat their homes. Many streets were paved, and many people had their shops and homes in the same building. The wealthy would have their portraits painted. Homes in the country could be made of logs and chinked with moss or mud.

Pioneer families planted crops such as corn, wheat, rye, potatoes, peas, and flax. Flax was used to make cloth; corn was one of the main foods the eaten in the colonies. Meat could come from wild animals. Many poorer families ate a form of pudding called cornmeal mush every day of the year. Johnnycake, bread made with cornmeal, was also popular. Vegetables and meat were used to make soups and stews. Pies were made from gathered raspberries, strawberries, and cherries. Since water was sometimes impure, all members of the family drank milk and whiskey, which was made out of corn, rye, wheat, and barley. The whiskey was often mixed with spices, milk, and sugar which many people thought improved the taste.

Originally, clothing in the middle colonies for the most part resembled the Dutch form of dress. Quakers wore neat and simple clothing as their religion taught them. Many clothes were homemade on the frontier. Flax produced linen and deerskin was used to make breeches, shirts, jackets, and moccasins. Forest products were used to make a dye. Yellow came from butternut tree bark; red came from the roots of the madder herb; brown came from the hulls of black walnuts.

The average life expectancy on the frontier was 25 years old. Many children died of disease during their first 5 years living there. The people that lived in the Middle Colonies mostly had shipping-related jobs such as merchants, shipwrights, dockworkers, and many other professions. A number of other people worked at industries related to metal: blacksmiths, and others. Printing and publishing were also very important trades.

There was no public school system. There were church run and private schools and some free schools for the poor. Free public education did not get going until the mid 1800’s. Until then, many people received little or no schooling. Wealthy families hired private tutors to teach their sons Latin, Greek, and other advanced subjects. Wealthy young men attended college when they were teenagers. There were few schools in the frontier. By adulthood, most people on the frontier had received less schooling than the average second grader today. The only book owned by many families was the Bible with which parents used to teach their children reading skills and religious lessons. Basic arithmetic was the only other education.

The residents of the middle colony amused themselves in a variety of ways. Men liked to spend their evenings playing cards and talking to their friends in taverns. Billiards and bowling were popular with the men, as they are now. The women enjoyed visiting with friends and relatives along with gardening, and dancing was popular among both women and men. From time to time, acrobats, tightrope walkers, and showmen exhibiting giraffes, leopards, and other wild animals would come to the towns. The theatre and plays were enjoyed as well.


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